Monday, November 16, 2009

The Darker Side of Light Exhibit at National Gallery of Art

"The Darker Side of Light: Arts of Privacy, 1850-1900" which opened at the National Gallery of Art in October will be running until the middle of January. Then it will move to Chicago in February where it will run through June. It had appeared in Los Angeles prior to arriving in Washington, DC. The exhibition highlights prints and drawings emphasizing the idea of privacy both as a subject for art and a model for individual collectors in contrast to the more public focus of the Impressionist aesthetic which arguably dominated the period. The fact that most of the work is in black and white as opposed to the vibrant color characteristic of Impressionism adds another layer of meaning to the adjective "darker."

There is a ten minute video which gives a sweeping overview of the work in the exhibition available at the National Gallery web site. It is also available as a podcast at iTunes. While the narration provided by curator, Peter Parshall, is careful to develop the theme of interiority which is the exhibition's focus, it is not always as informative about the artists or the specific work. Artists are not always indentified, and since many of them are not very well known, some discussion of their lives would have been useful for the less knowledgeable among us. Moreover, he doesn't always identify the genre of the work shown either. What he does provide, and provide very effectively, is a nice explanation of the work's relationship to the theme of the exhibition. His descriptions of the content of the piece are especially helpful for viewers watching on the small iPod screen, where the images are sometimes not as clear as they might be.

The most extensive analysis comes at the end of the video in a discussion of a series of etchings entitled "A Glove" by the German artist, Max Klinger. In the first of the series, a young man (seemingly a self portrait) finds a glove dropped by a woman at a skating rink. The glove then becomes a fetish that appears in various forms in each of the succeeding etchings. Parshall sees the series as a kind of pre-Freudian explication of the force of the fetish. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the series is "a strange parable of a hapless young man and his obsessive involvement with a woman’s elbow-length glove."

Since the video only runs a little over ten minutes, it is hard to carp about the amount of information it gives the viewer, still the kind of analysis devoted to Klinger's work has to leave you wishing that it had been done for some of the other work and some of the other artists as well. Still, something is better than nothing, and there is always the internet.

No comments:

Post a Comment